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India’s UPI hits France as Eiffel Tower enables online rupee payments for visitors

Eiffel Tower: has become the first site to offer UPI payments in France | Credit: Eliane Meyer (Pixabay)

France has become the first European country to accept payments made via India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) in a breakthrough for Indian authorities’ global ambitions for the payment mechanism.

National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) – established just over 15 years ago by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) – has announced through its international arm that Indian tourists are now able to purchase tickets for the Eiffel Tower via UPI through a partnership with French e-payments company Lyra.

UPI, which is widely seen to have been a great success in enabling greater take-up of digital payments across India since being introduced in 2016, enables people to use mobile-phones to send and receive money while eliminating the need to enter bank details or other sensitive information during a transaction. Indian authorities have been stepping up their efforts to enable use of UPI internationally, with PM Narendra Modi announcing during a visit to Paris in July 2023 that the European Union (EU) member state had agreed to use UPI and that the Eiffel Tower’s operating company was in line to be first organisation to do so.

‘Indian tourists can now book their visit to the Eiffel Tower by purchasing tickets online using UPI — making the transaction process quick, easy and hassle-free,’ NPCI International Payments (NIPL) and Lyra announced in a joint-press release, adding that Indian tourists rank as the second largest group of international visitors to the world-famous landmark. Wannabe UPI-using visitors to the wrought-iron edifice need to use UPI-powered apps to scan a QR (Quick Response) code generated as they proceed through the ticket-buying website and then initiate their payment, NPCI International Payments and Lyra explain.

‘While the Eiffel Tower is the first merchant to offer UPI payments in France, this service will soon be extended to other merchants in the tourism and retail space,’ the organisations state, adding that the move will ‘make it significantly easier for touring Indians to remotely book hotels, museums visits, etc. for their stay in France.’

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NIPL’s global goal

UPI has more than 380 million users and, in January 2024, recorded more than 12.2 billion transactions, according to NIPL, which describes it as ‘the world’s most efficient instant payment system.’

The Eiffel Tower milestone was recognised at an event in Paris organised by the Indian Embassy in France. France’s recently appointed minister delegate to the prime minister and government spokesperson, Prisca Thevenot, as well as Patrick Branco Ruivo, chief executive of the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, which manages the tourist attraction, were among those present.

Going live: a post on X (formerly Twitter) by the Embassy of India in France highlighting the event

“At NIPL, our ambition is to enable acceptance of NPCI’s payment solutions in international markets and create a truly interoperable global payment system. We aim at actively collaborating with financial institutions worldwide to establish partnerships and provide consumers with convenient and secure cross-border payment solutions. Through this strategic partnership with Lyra, we have taken another step forward towards this goal,” said NIPL chief executive Ritesh Shukla.

“It is a great pride to have the trust of the Indian government and NIPL to launch UPI in Europe,” said Lyra France commercial director Christophe Mariette.

“We have been present in India for 17 years, and this partnership confirms the strength of our collaboration with this vast country,” he continued. “We also demonstrate our ability to stay ahead of market trends and strengthen our ambition to offer all payment methods used worldwide. For the players in the French and European tourism ecosystem, this partnership represents a major advancement and the promise of new business opportunities to come.”

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Testing, testing

NIPL and Lyra have been stoking the anticipation for the launch of UPI in France over recent months.

In September last year, Shukla and France’s consul-general in Mumbai, Jean-Marc Séré-Charlet, were among the speakers at a discussion – ‘Spotlight France: Lyra taking UPI to France’ – held as part of the ‘Global Fintech Fest 2023’ in Mumbai.

Allons-y: France’s consul-general in Mumbai Jean-Marc Séré-Charlet posted a message on X (formerly Twitter) highlighting that the Eiffel Tower had started to take payments through UPI – and that he himself had tested it

NIPL last month signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Google Pay to ‘expand the transformative impact of UPI to countries beyond India’.

There are three principal aims: to broaden the use of UPI payments for travellers outside India, ‘enabling them to conveniently make transactions abroad’; to ‘assist in establishing UPI-like digital payment systems in other countries, providing a model for seamless financial transactions’; and ‘easing the process of remittances between countries by utilising the UPI infrastructure, thereby simplifying cross-border financial exchanges’.

The objectives will ‘help accelerate UPI’s global acceptance, providing foreign merchants access to Indian customers who will no longer have to rely only on foreign currency and/or, credit or forex [foreign exchange] cards for making digital payments and will have the option using UPI-powered apps from India including Google Pay’, according to NPCI’s announcement.